On Thursday, May 26, the Minneapolis City Council approved the renaming of First Avenue North (between 7th and 8th Streets) in honor of the city’s favorite son. And, shortly after noon on Tuesday, June 7, on what would have been the legend’s 64th birthday, the stretch of road that he made world-famous was formally rechristened “Prince Rogers Nelson Way.”
The commemorative street dedication is the second jewel in the “Crown Our Prince” project—last week’s unveiling of Hiero Veiga’s Prince mural at nearby Ramp A being the first—and fulfills the mission that Sharon Smith-Akinsanya and Joan Vorderbruggen began seven long years ago to make this city “shine purple every day.”
The festivities began across the street on the patio of O’Donovans Irish Pub, and were kicked off by Smith-Akinsanya, CEO of the Rae Mackenzie Group. After moving here in the early 1990s, she soon found herself in the employ of Prince. While admitting to the crowd that she never intended to make Minneapolis her permanent home, she shared something her boss said: “Prince told me, ‘You’ll never leave.’”
Thirty years later, she’s the leader of one of the most successful DEI firms in the world, based right here in the Twin Cities.
Vorderbruggen recounted her days as a regular at the club First Avenue, and how once the dancing concluded downtown, scores of purple partygoers often made their way out to Paisley Park. “Prince did n’t always perform,” she recalled, “but he was there and included us in his community of him.”
Other speakers included: Major Jacob Frey; President and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council Steve Cramer; Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman; Prince’s former attorney Londell McMillan, who welcomed family members Brianna Nelson and John Nelson, Jr.; and City Council President Andrea, Jenkins who celebrated Prince as an innovator, champion of artist rights and social justice, and someone who showed us new ways to think about gender and sexuality.
Those in attendance included several individuals who spent time with Prince during the earliest days of the Minneapolis Sound, including his cousin Charles Smith, Walter “Q-Bear” Banks, Kristie Lazenberry of 94 East, and the first person ever to take Prince into a professional recording studio, Pepé Willie.
Perhaps the significance of both the mural and Prince Rogers Nelson Way was best summed up by Vorderbruggen, who noted these spaces are more than simple tributes, they embody everything that Prince was about. “They represent a way of being. A place people can be their authentic selves and find a sense of belonging.”
The Hampton Inn and Suites just down the street seem to get that. As Smith-Akinsanya explained, she and her team took over the hotel three weeks in advance of the mural dedication. Just prior to today’s ceremony, she got word from the hotel, that they won’t be billed.
Then, after she looked at and thanked her mother Amanda Smith for all her support, Smith-Akinssnya and Vorderbruggen crossed the street, pulled back the purple fabric covering the newly installed street sign, and revealed Prince Rogers Nelson Way to Minneapolis and the world.
Tony Kiene’s experience in the Twin Cities nonprofit and entertainment industries includes work with the Minneapolis Urban League, Penumbra Theatre, Hallie Q. Brown, and Pepé Music.
He welcomes reader responses to [email protected].
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism